“Envie” of Envy

Our Voice Marcello Sanzi reflects on the history and cultures of envy, and how equality and admiration will make a better society. 



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Marcello Sanzi
Photo by: USGS

A Lesson From History

I love to travel and one of my favorite cities in the world is Cairo, the capital of Egypt. What makes it so special? It could be the pyramids, the desert, or it could be the Nile, which is such a mystical river. I would probably say the energy, or maybe the fact that it was the center of one of the most evolved civilizations of all times.

One of the things that made Egypt so rich and glamorous was the monopoly they had over paper in the Mediterranean that was made with papyrus, the plant. Paper was a very precious good at that time, which is why, in ancient Greece, they would rather write on anything else than paper in order to save some coin, as, for example, fragments of earthenware from broken jars; they were often large enough to write someone’s name on.

Writing names was very important at that time, as an ancient Greek citizen, you had the right to vote someone out of the city. To do that, when asked, you would have to write his name on an OSTRAKON, which was a piece of rock. Why do I tell you this? Because, today, we name the action of intentionally not including someone in a social group or activity ostracism.

Why do we still practice this form of exclusion? Often because of envy.

What is envy?

Envy is a feeling of unhappiness and anger because someone has something or someone, that you want, and that you may even consider impossible for you to have.

I believe everyone who experiences some sort of success, is at some point faced with envy from his or her surroundings, at least that’s what most of the rappers claim. It is normal to feel uncomfortable that someone is better than us. Excellence sets a high bar. If we are not able to rise to the occasion, and reach the same level as this other person, it is not so uncommon to feel a sense of mediocracy—which again could lead to envy. I don’t think this sounds so unfamiliar to the most of us.

Avoiding Envy

Which is also why I have some suggestions on how to avoid envy, none of them including ostracizing this person from our group.

  • Be inspired by learning from each other and asking others advise on how to reach our own goals.
  • We recognize the qualities the other person has developed and celebrate them. We encourage this person to share this competence with their community—meaning their family, the workplace or society in general.

A Lesson From the French

I have studied and worked both in Italy and in France. The French and the Italians are not known for being very warm towards each other—and yes, the cappuccino is terrible over there, but I felt included. Yet I think there’s a lot to learn from French people, especially because I think they don’t practice a lot of envy over there; and I believe the reason could be that French culture is deeply rooted in human rights.

“Egalitè” means that we are all equal in terms of possibilities, no matter how much we have taken advantage of our libertè.

If we are free and we have the same possibilities as other every citizen, there’s really no need to be envious.

Remember human rights also include:

  • Equal work hours not depending on how funny or pretty you are.
  • Equal career possibilities if you have a family life event such as pregnancy or marriage.
  • Equal amounts of responsibility regardless how you dress, how you enjoy your free time, or where you were born.

We should be worried when society does not uphold fundamental principles as equality and human rights. I urge people to stop relying on privilege, to act and fight for human rights and equality. •